Princeton history professor explains why Democrats need to get over fear of impeachment

The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives continues to be divided on whether or not impeachment of President Donald Trump should be pursued. While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — for all her frustration with Trump — remains opposed to impeachment, Congress members calling for impeachment range from Rep. Maxine Waters of California to newcomers such as Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City. Opponents of impeachment argue that Trump would benefit politically — not unlike President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s — but Princeton University historian Kevin M. Kruse, in a May 28 op-ed for USA Today, asserts that anti-impeachment Democrats are flawed in their arguments.

Kruse stresses that comparing Clinton in 1998/1999 to Trump in 2019 is mixing apples and oranges because “Clinton was a popular president, while Trump is not.” Further, Kruse writes, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr was widely viewed as a GOP “partisan,” while Special Counsel Robert Mueller “has not been seen as a partisan” and was “a Republican investigating a Republican.”

Kruse goes on to say that “the charges levied against the two presidents were not comparable. Starr was appointed to investigate the Clintons’ failed Whitewater real estate deal from the late 1970s. After several years, Starr found no wrongdoing on Clinton’s part and shifted attention to the president’s perjury about a consensual sexual affair with a former White House intern.”

Only three presidents in United States history have faced impeachment in the House of Representatives: Democrat Andrew Johnson in the 1860s, Republican Richard Nixon in 1974 and Clinton. None of them were convicted in a Senate trial, but Nixon probably would have been had he not resigned in August 1974.

Kruse explains, “Soon after the Senate select committee on Watergate launched its famous televised hearings in May 1973, for instance, only 19% of Americans thought Nixon should be removed from office. The televised hearings convinced more and more Americans that the president needed to resign or be removed.”

The Princeton history professor wraps up his op-ed by emphasizing that Democratic opponents of impeaching Trump are “misreading” history.

“Impeaching a president in the House but failing to secure conviction in the Senate is not the political loser many Democrats think it is,” Starr asserts. “To be sure, Clinton’s approval rating rose as a result of the failed impeachment effort, but the impact was short-lived and isolated to him alone. Despite predictions that they would be punished at the polls, Republicans took back the presidency in the 2000 election and kept control of both houses of Congress.”


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